Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Teaching Online - What to Expect

What to expect from an Online Course – A Teacher’s Perspective
Since I have both assisted college faculty with course design as an Instructional Designer and have taught Masters level online courses, I have come to learn first- hand what teachers can expect from an online course. Depending on how well an instructor prepares an online course, facilitating one can be a great adventure full of exciting discussion and engaging assessments resulting in a rich learning community, or it could be a confusing information dump with little interaction resulting in bitter students and low or no future enrollment. So to answer the question of what an instructor can expect in teaching an online course, I would say that you can expect to get out of it what you put into it. Faculty teaching online at BGSU have the opportunity to work with the IDEAL Group, Instructional Designers, Multimedia Developers, and e-Learning Specialists, to ensure the highest quality online courses.

It's Like Planning a Wedding
I will have been married for 3 years in October, and I remember the kind of planning and preparation that went into the wedding to make that day run smoothly. Well I should say I learned a lot by watching my wife, but anyhow, I noticed a similarity between planning a wedding and planning for teaching an online course for the first time. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made up front so that when the day comes, you can thoroughly enjoy it. You can spend more time talking with your guests and sharing stories rather than having to worry about baking a cake the day of the wedding, or trying to get a limo to take you to the reception. Similarly, the more time you spend preparing your course, the fewer snags you will have throughout the course and the more time you will have to interact with the students, facilitate meaningful discussion, and effectively facilitate the course! Hopefully this article will help you better prepare for teaching online.

Preparation Phase: At least 3 months before start date

  • During the preparation phase, teachers will set up the course by creating their course modules in the LMS (Learning Management System). A module is like a lesson on a topic which includes all reading material, assignments, quizzes, etc. Instructors have the option to work with Instructional Designers from IDEAL who specialize in online delivery. The following might be included in a module:
    • Required Readings
      • Textbook
      • Websites
      • Journals
    • Lecture Materials
      • Powerpoint Presentations (with or without audio narration)
      • Video Lecture
      • Audio Lecture
      • Word Documents
      • HTML Lecure (website)
      • PDF's
    • Communication and Collaboration Opportunities
      • Discussion Forums
      • E-mail
      • Live Chat (Text, audio, video)
      • Online Document sharing
      • Wikis
      • Blogs
    • Module Assignments
      • Case study (i.e. turn in paper and/or discuss the case at the discussion board)
      • Essay
      • Research Papers
      • Quantitative and Qualitative Assessments
      • Journal

  • It is very important that students know exactly what is expected of them at all times so a detailed syllabus should be created to set student expectations such as reading materials, assignments, tests, participation requirements, and all due dates.
  • Once you have all of your modules built and the preparation phase is complete, you will enjoy the fruits of your labor and can focus on interaction and feedback during the delivery of the course.

2 Weeks before the start of class

  • E-mail your students the course syllabus, introduce yourself, set student expectations, and give them access to the course so they can look around and explore the online classroom before the official start date.

Facilitation Phase – These are common activities during my facilitation phase

  • Once class has begun, I include a welcome announcement in the LMS (Learning Management System) explaining all facets of the classroom and setting my students’ expectations again. Repetition of information is a key in online facilitation.
  • Throughout facilitation, you can expect many questions from students. For this reason, I created a “Questions for the Instructor” forum in the Discussion Board so that all questions are streamlined to a central location for all students to see and learn from. I let them know about this in my welcome announcement on Day 1.
  • If you have a weekly classroom discussion at the Discussion Board (which I highly recommend) you can expect to spend a few hours per week adding your personal insight and expertise to the discussion and helping coach students to critically think and explore the topic further. I outline the student discussion board participation expectations in the syllabus, welcome announcement, and at the discussion board. Again, with the repetition.
  • Every week I communicate updates, changes, summary of weekly lessons learned, and other major announcements.
  • Try to update grades and provide feedback every week to help the online students stay on task and motivated.
The result of a teacher who takes adequate time to design and prepare their online course will enjoy facilitating the course for many years.


Donna's Blog said...

Great information and thanks for sharing.

When I was teaching an online course this summer I spent a lot of time getting everything all ready like you described. The problem I encountered though was the fact that having everything all set did not leave me any flexibility once the course began. I know when teaching a face-to-face course sometimes I find that I have to spend more time on a topic and I can make adjustments and modificatgions as the semester progresses. Having everything in place left me no room for this. So my thinking is now to allow for some flexibility. This I think could be done by not describing an assignment in complete detail, but waiting to see how the students are progressing.

I would be interested in your thoughts on this.


Donna Dick

Terence Armentano said...

Hi Donna,
Thanks for the encouragement. You bring up a very good point. How does one balance the structure necessary for successful online delivery and the freedom necessary to meet the students’ needs? One way in which I try to do this is by establishing the baseline of learning outcomes that the students must master. Once those are established I design the modules in a way that leaves a couple days of flexibility between modules. That way, if the material is too easy for some students and they are ready to move on, I can introduce optional in-depth materials and resources via email or Announcements for the students to explore and dig deeper. If the materials are too difficult for some students and they need more explanation and time on task, I can take the time necessary for more discussion and instruction because I have the flex time built into design of the course. One thing that is not a good idea is to veer too far from the initial plan (syllabus) by changing direction on the students or by taking too much time on one topic that the pace of the class gets to out of sync with the initial plan. It is much better to set their expectations up front with a well defined syllabus (map) so they know where they are going, but also build in flexibility to the flow of the course.

Christopher Pappas said...

Hi Terence,

You cannot imagine how much you helped me with this post. This semester I will begin my Major Project. The conversion of a face-to-face course (Music Technology II) into an online format. This post and the training modules that you created are the two main resources for my project. The question that I have is what happen when an Instructor does not have Powerpoint Presentations or video and audio lectures? Is our job, as instructional designers to create these materials or just to convert the course? Also we should focus only to the course materials and the interactions between instructor and student(s) or also with the interaction between student and student(s)?

Thank you for sharing these thoughts in this blog,

Terence Armentano said...

Hi Christopher,
I am glad you enjoy the blog. Regarding the conversion of lectures, an instructional designer will work with the instructor and discuss the options for lecture content. Lecture content does not have to be ppt, audio, or video. It can be anything that the instructor uses to inform the class such as Word docs, HTML, PDF's, etc. The lecture material is simply the instructors unique way of communicating expertise to the students. The Instructional designer may talk with the instructor and suggest the pros and cons of the different modes of lecturing online. Also, regarding your communication question, in my opinion, it is a good idea to design interactions for: student to materials, student to instructor, and student to student.